Shortly before Christmas a large box arrived at CLINIC’s office in Silver Spring, Maryland.
There was no note of explanation. The return address was for the Toledo Correctional Institution.
The contents: 550 handmade greeting cards, illustrated with favorite children’s cartoon characters, religious symbols and other colorful drawings.
The intended recipients: the Central American children being held at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, awaiting adjudication of their families’ applications for asylum in the United States. The inmates at the Toledo Correctional Institution, a prison for men in Ohio, created hundreds handmade cards with messages in Spanish to send to mothers and children held at the family detention center
The women and children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras had entered the United States hoping for a safe haven for their families.
According to the Kimberly Henderson, spokeswoman for the correctional facility, the inmates spent months drawing, writing, and coloring greeting cards after they heard about CLINIC collecting cards for detained families.
In 2014 thousands of Central American families began crossing the U.S. border at Mexico, fleeing violence in their home countries. The Department of Homeland Security opened the Dilley detention center to house some of the women and their children while their legal cases worked through immigration courts. Working in collaboration with other immigration organizations as the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Representation and Advocacy Project, CLINIC began offering legal services to the families in Dilley.
As the Christmas holidays approached that year, CLINIC encouraged people who wanted to assist the immigrant families to send holiday cards. That request reached the Toledo prison some months later.
The Toledo inmates wanted to welcome the families with words of encouragement while they await the resolution of their efforts to stay in the U.S
“Recuerda que hay personas orando por ti y por todos los niños del mundo,” (“Remember there are people praying for you and for all the children in the world”) reads one card.
Some cards have illustrations or decorations of well-known children’s cartoons, others have colorful drawings of hearts, teddy bears, flowers and butterflies.
“Cristo te ama,” (“Christ loves you”) reads another.
Fifteen inmates worked on the project. Five of them spoke Spanish and have lived in Mexico, Henderson told CLINIC.
“They wanted to do this project because they feel sorry for these families that are being held against their will,” wrote Henderson. “They know how it feels not being able to go for a walk or cook whatever meal they want to, just the whole thing of ‘freedom.’”
Henderson said the inmates also wanted to give something back -- to families in need
CLINIC’s Executive Director Jeanne Atkinson said the men are showing solidarity with the detained women and children.
“I think it’s really touching that these inmates, who know better than most what it is like to be imprisoned, spent months crafting beautiful cards to send a message of hope,” she said.
“From our prior experience, I can tell you how much the cards will mean to the women and boys and girls,” Atkinson said.
CLINIC staff will share the cards with families who come through Dilley in the weeks ahead. The CARA Pro Bono Project is a partnership of CLINIC, the American Immigration Council, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services and the American Immigration Lawyers Association that provides legal representation and undertakes advocacy on behalf of mothers and children held in federal family detention centers.
- - -
Aline Barros is communications outreach coordinator at CLINIC.